"I'd like to be as un-mysterious as I possibly can," Graham Van Pelt says. He's about to release Time Travel, his first record in the four years since he moved from Montreal to Toronto, and he's no longer Miracle Fortress, or Inside Touch, or any of the aliases he's used to record over the years. He's just Graham Van Pelt.
With the perspective of leaving a longtime home, of watching old friends change and familiar places become unrecognizable, came a recommitment to an emotional honesty in Van Pelt's songwriting. Time Travel's eight songs are a tangle of friendships and feelings. Moving backwards and forwards in time, they occupy a space of elegant melancholy.
Immersing himself in the work of house music legends like Larry Heard, Vincent Floyd and Maurizio and the fragile disco of Arthur Russell, along with contemporaries like Jessy Lanza and Kelly Lee Owens, Van Pelt built the album from the bottom up, rooting every track in the crude sequencer of the Roland SH-101 synth, a decades-old dance music totem. The result are melodies that are simple but affecting, anchored to deep, wandering basslines.
Time Travel is a renewal of Van Pelt's vows with dance music, and with the genre's pulse of synthesized melancholy. It's a heartrending rush, as emotionally direct as a sweaty, jaw-clenching 3am hug.
Honey Harper is both an old and a new project. The songs were written in the past three years but they've been around for much longer. They resist temporality and eschew spatial specificity. Whether they were written on a lake in northern Ontario, a haunted hotel room in Atlanta, or in a car at 5AM in east London makes little difference as they all reside within.
Honey Harper is intrinsically honest, pure, universal country.
Many cassettes into the career of Sean Nicholas Savage, Yummycoma is further indication of an artist with ambitions beyond industry or conventional realities, with ambitions of the heart and soul. A life in song. Awake and dreaming. Yummy gently pursues a myriad of thoughts and emotions, set in a cool and rainy atmosphere, with each genre bending treat, painted upon a cloud of reverb. In 2017, Savage’s voice seems distant and deformed, swinging between a Boy George, Roy Orbison, and perhaps even Cher, whilst his signature whisper screams and moon howls are more developed and sober than ever before. Savage is famously known to record with a full take vocal method, in which no comps or cuts are made. This being one of his most unrealistic performances to date, is a statement in itself. As the cassette title Yummycoma suggests, although savage's melodies and words appear to be full of insight, optimism, and even joy, with upbeat rhythms and sparkling keys, yummy on the tongue - the random deranged tones, drunk with reverb put our protagonist at a distance from the listener, half swallowed tales, half sunk on this dark and stormy horizon. Neither drowning, nor surfacing, but frozen, like a photograph. This might imply however, that although Yummy; poppy, bursting with flavour and life; this coma, this snapshot, could be either an evasion, a fantasy, a distraction from some opposition, equal in extremity, or simply a peaceful reflection found only thru boundless meditation. Hauntingly, Yummycomma is out this Friday the 13th of October on Arbutus Records.
Blue Hawaii's Tenderness searches for the meaning of closeness in our highly-connected world. Central to the record is the contradictory power of technology: people are at once alienated and brought together by its use. With immediacy of communication we can feel close without ever having to be truly tender to each other.
After taking a 4 year break from writing and producing with each other, Ra and Agor rekindled their creative flame in 2016, writing music about an unrequited relationship Ra was experiencing with someone mostly online, constantly battling these contradictory feelings of distance and closeness. As record flows from one song to the next with skits, phone calls, acoustic demos, real life samples and quiet left-turns, she discovers that happiness is derived not from others but from something immaterial within herself. She finds validation without the need for the other - a valuable lesson whether in real or virtual reality.
Moon King is the alias of producer, singer & songwriter Daniel Benjamin. Born in Toronto, the musician recently moved to Detroit, where the musically fertile & offbeat neighborhood of Hamtramck became both his home and the subject material for a new set of recordings. Hamtramck '16 documents his arrival into a new and unfamiliar environment combined with a growing obsession for underground dance music, a sound & spirit that has always felt right at home in Detroit.
Collaborating with local artists & musicians, and having the freedom to stretch out after several years of constant touring, Daniel put together a completely new band with a sound drawing from dance music's early days, from post-disco pioneers like Klein & MBO, to the house music of Larry Heard, and up through the more pop-oriented songcraft of the Bee Gees or Prince. Daniel's attention to detail in production, and willingness to break the mold of what he sees as his own potential, have made him an interesting figure to watch. With Hamtramck '16 he has created a lo-fi pop gem that will leave listeners eager to hear what comes next.
For Tops, Sugar At The Gate, their third and most ambitious album to date, Montreal's TOPS peaced out to LA. They lived and recorded at "Glamdale", a mini-mansion and former brothel located in the Jewel City, Glendale, CA. The unassuming record unfolds slowly, taking time to reveal itself. Like nearly everything TOPS does, multiple meanings overlap with the album's title referring to orgasm, but also to carrot chasing, gatekeeping, and the social contract."Living in LA was living out a teenage fantasy," says vocalist-songwriter Jane Penny, "living with your band and practicing in the garage. It was also the first time we’ve ever had that much space to make music. I took the experience of living LA as a challenge to make music that I know is real to me, in the sense of it feeling true and containing true feelings, but also recordings of great songs, the real thing."Layers of sarcasm and sincerity seem to enfold the group like flower petals, yet TOPS' flawless musicianship and profound grasp of pop fundamentals are the surest sign that at the core, it's all as real as it sounds.
"Jimi Hendrix said you need fantasy", says Toronto's Lydia Ainsworth," to see reality more clearly." On her sublime second album, Darling of the Afterglow, Ainsworth upholds Hendrix's wisdom in the best way. Vividly imagined and richly felt, the follow-up to Ainsworth's Juno-nominated Right from Real (2014) is an album of intimate emotions projected in heightened widescreen, where yearning pop classicism and classical smarts merge with other-worldly synthetic sounds and weird-gothic R&B infuences.For Ainsworth, it represents a great leap of confdence from her prodigious debut, whether she's conjuring the crystalline harmonies and deaths-head rhythms of The Road, the lush earworm pop of Ricochet or the small-hours reverie of WLCM. Blessed with an extraordinarily supple voice, Ainsworth commits herself fully on all fronts, honouring the words of Afterglow: To play it safe is not to play at all.The album title itself came to her while she was out of her element, explains Ainsworth, living near LAs Echo Park - home to the Art Deco statueÂ‘Nuestra SeÃ±ora Reina de Los Angeles (Queen of the Angels). "Walking around the lake just after sunset at a time when I was desperate for human connection, I found comfort in this statue. She gave me the inspiration for the lyrics to the song. It was as if she was singing them to me." Pass the message on: Darling of the Afterglow is a bold, beautiful album from a voice ready to be heard.Darling Of The AfterglowAvailable March 31st, 2017 via Arbutus Records.
Mozart's Sister is the solo project of Montreal's Caila Thompson-Hannant. Her new album - Field of Love - is an explosion of glittering, celebratory pop. Intense, yet vulnerable, Field of Love marks a distinct growth in her artistry, and a departure from her critically-acclaimed debut Being (2014) Writing for Field of Love began in early 2015. Reliving her childhood love of 90s dance pop, Caila wanted to capture the spirit of the era's pop song - colourful, cartoonish, goofy, but always earnest. Throughout the writing process, she maintained only one rule: follow through on every musical desire. The critique could happen later, once the fun was finished. Ditching barriers and prejudice, her aim was to make music everyone was invited to. "I wrote Field of Love at a point when I truly did feel I was floating in a field of love. Once I got going the song-writing process happened very easily. As the songs came I realized: oh I really like these. There was a naivety to them and I felt like I could really cut loose when writing".
Braids are a three-piece experimental pop band from Montreal. In the spring of 2015 they released Deep In The Iris, their standout third record. Companion is the band's latest 4 track EP, written during the Deep In The Iris sessions, and completed during a burst of creative energy in August 2015.
Here Braids use the palette of Deep In The Iris to paint decidedly different vistas - joy, disaffection, thunderous explosion to delicate introspection, the minimalistic power of Companion to the patient blossoming of Sweet World.
Distinct in their own right, these 4 songs are not to be dismissed as b-sides, outtakes, or the lesser of a group of songs. Though it uses Deep In The Iris as a compositional guidepost, Companion is a breathtaking journey all of its own.
A joint release by LA's Hippos In Tanks and Montreal's Arbutus Records, the Darkbloom EP is a thrilling split by d'Eon and Grimes. Once both rising stars in Montreal's independent music scene, they produced their respective sides independently, though the project was conceptualized together.
Harnessing the dark energy of her sophomore album Halfaxa, along with the shimmering dream pop of her debut Geidi Primes, Grimes' side represents a synthesis of her two sonic personalities. Displaying a level of clarity and craftsmanship heretofore unseen in her releases, Boucher presents a stunning new collection of ethereal dreamscapes that expand her creative palette without compromising the spectral presence she is known for.
Following the Middle-Eastern-tinged R&B of 2010's Palinopsia, d'Eon's continuous, circular suite addresses reliance on technology through both lyrical content and sonic allusion - for example, "Telepathy" samples cell phone interference. d'Eon broadens his stylistic breadth through reference to a number of electronic genres - for example, he simultaneously incorporates elements of Chicago footwork and new jack swing, but surprises the listener with strange forays into bygone genres such as UK drum and bass and trip hop.
Presently available worldwide on CD and Digital formats, Darkbloom will be available on vinyl, for the first time in many territories, on May 20th, 2016.
Halfaxa is Grimes' sophomore LP. Originally available as a limited CD release, it's now available worldwide on CD/LP/Digital.
Claire Boucher speaks a different language. And Halfaxa, her second album, feels like the dictionary from which we might discern just where this being comes from. Halfaxa is simultaneously more human than Geidi Primes, and yet falls deeper into a hole of mystical obscurity. The lyrics, as throughout this album, are designed to be an additional instrument, and not necessarily a device that gives obvious meaning to the proceedings.
There is a strong focus on primeval and simplistic percussion to Boucher's music, though I am apprehensive to compare it directly to club music. Even with all the fog and barriers she presents us with, at the core of her music is the human heart. There is a heartbeat in every note. Her breath is often used as a percussive element. Somehow, Grimes says more about life through her methodology than through what she literally chooses to say. Like all great world music, her sound transcends language.
TOPS are a four piece band from Montreal, equal parts girls and guys, delivering a raw punk take on AM studio pop. In the fall of 2014, they released their breakthrough album Picture You Staring. Critically-acclaimed, PYS has 8,000 copies, and the band has performed over 200 shows worldwide in support.
Originally released in 2012, Tender Opposites is the band's debut album, now available on LP. A lush array of timelessly crafted songs, Tender Opposites gathers its strength through delicate intimacy. These are moving songs that succeed earnestly, disregarding trends and myth-making, focusing instead on pure pop craftsmanship.
Geidi Primes is Grimes' debut LP. Originally available as a free download, and a limited release of cassettes, it's now available worldwide on CD/LP/Digital.
It has a strange air of being created unconsciously while the artist herself was asleep. It is a vastly intriguing set of pop tunes highlighted by its amazing fifth and sixth songs: "Avi" and "Feyd Rautha Dark Heart", which are each frighteningly reminiscent of an unaccountable psychic experience you may have never had.
It seems like an album made for very tall people about what it's like to be very small. It calls to mind the glowering of a child king amidst the many vestments and decorations of his coronation. Listening to Geidi Primes is what its like to suddenly realize you are being watched while taking a cold shower... on the moon.
This fall sees the release of Sean Nicholas Savage's latest record, Other Death. Savage, a master of tenderness, reflection and projection, has released and toured relentlessly in pursuit of the rarer beauties found only in the nuance of pop song and performance.
Other Death was recorded in Santa Monica, Los Angeles as a collaboration with Agor, of Savage's Arbutus labelmates Blue Hawaii, while Errhead of Doldrums plays on much of the record. Ramona Gonzalez Nite Jewel also makes an appearance, as do TOPS' Jane Penny and David Carriere. This is Savage's highest fidelity recording to date, with daring, captivating, and as always minimal and soft production style. In contrast to his usual introspection, Other Death is immediately more upbeat, uptempo, confident, inspired and delivers more consistent pop singles than any of his previous records.
Savage is not playing to the middle. Here he gives his listeners, those who crave a harder SNS smack, the energy they crave. This is the release fans will turn to when they want to feel the sophisticated, delicate, and enchanted music of Sean Nicholas Savage at its most brave, free and loud. It's as if upon being tossed a copy of Other Life, Savage reads the message; "Other Life?" and throws it back at us in blood red, "Other Death".
Michael Stasis is a songwriter and artist living in Los Angeles. Since the age of thirteen, he has written and recorded music in tiny homemade studios. As a child, Michael and his father would make toys and go for heady night walks through the rolling hills and lonely mansions of Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. With its own American folklore of wealthy industrialists, witches and dog-people, Michael's youth danced with an oil-to-water hatred of homework and beige pragmatism. Convinced that imagination and faith in the unknown are keys to the good life, he left home to study art at Cooper Union in Manhattan. For his first release on Arbutus, RIP III is the third in a "greatest hits" series. Largely self-recorded, his restless output (over two hundred songs) has jumped sonically and stylistically, leaving some listeners to wonder if it's the same artist at all. Stasis calls it "playlist mentality", a fractured approach borrowed from current listening patterns and dwindling attention spans. This intuitive tactic, he hopes, will keep people interested, rather than lamenting a bygone era of classic anything.
RIP III is out August 4th on Arbutus Records.
Braids are a three-piece experimental pop band from Montreal.
To record their third album, Deep In The Iris, Braids decamped to a series of retreats in the mountains of Arizona, Vermont, and upstate New York. Surrounded by nature in all its warm vitality, the longtime bandmates strove to shed the fabric of their day to day relationships, being bare and vulnerable before one another. What resulted is Deep In The Iris, their strongest record to date - powerful, yet fragile; immaculately sculpted, but deeply human.
Raphaelle Standell has always had a formidable voice but rarely has it sounded as vital, focused, and powerful as it does here. True to the process that birthed it, the record explores a number of heavy subjects, including pornography, abuse, and slutshaming. Standell's emotional vulnerability becomes a triumphant weapon in its own right: scything through wrongdoing and shame with equal aplomb, and clearing the way for the many others who will find resonance in the bravery of these lyrics. Written from a place of inspiring strength and unblinking lucidity, the lyricism of this record is a cathartic gift.
Deep In The Iris, out April 28th on Arbutus Records.
Composer / producer / singer Lydia Ainsworth has been secretly writing and recording songs over the past three years from bedrooms and basements between Toronto and Brooklyn. What began as pass-time sketches between composing music for film and multimedia projects has over time revealed an enchanting collection of experimental pop songs with a life of their own.
Blurring the boundaries between indie music, filmic orchestration, and electronic music, Lydia's debut "Right From Real" thrives on haunting melodies and draws inspiration from a wide range of musical sources - Verdi's Requiem, Ace of Base, Bulgarian Choirs, Bernard Herrmann, Tones on Tail, Art of Noiseâ€¦ to name a few. This sense of unexpected marriages of influence flows throughout much of Lydia's work which features use of voice sampling and string arrangements woven into a unique minimalist fabric.
Lydia Ainsworth's debut "Right From Real" will be released 09.30.14 on Arbutus Records.
TOPS are a four-piece band from Montreal, equal parts girls and guys, delivering a raw punk take on AM studio pop. Their new record, PictureYou Staring, is a lush array of timelessly crafted songs. Singer Jane Penny gives a new voice to the silent girl at the edge of the circle, disillusioned but honest and unpretentious, a tone complemented by David Carriere's seamless guitar playing and the measured drumming of Riley Fleck. TOPS' subtle arrangements are delivered with a cool restraint that blend with the individuality and self-assured desire of their femalelead.
Picture You Staring gathers strength through intimacy. Self-written, recorded and produced at Arbutus Records' studio in Montreal over the course of a year, this album contains 12 impeccable examples of pop craftsmanship that will reward repeat listeners.
TOPS are a four-piece band from Montreal, equal parts girls and guys, delivering a raw punk take on AM studio pop. Change Of Heart / Sleeptalker is a 7" record with their lead single "Change Of Heart" backed with "Sleeptalker". Both songs are featured on their new record, Picture You Staring, which is a lush array of timelessly crafted songs.
Singer Jane Penny gives a new voice to the silent girl at the edge of the circle, disillusioned but honest and unpretentious, a tone complemented by David Carriere's seamless guitar playing and the measured drumming of Riley Fleck. TOPS' subtle arrangements are delivered with a cool restraint that blend with the individuality and self-assured desire of their female lead.
Change Of Heart / Sleeptalker gathers strength through intimacy. Self-written, recorded and produced at Arbutus Record's studio in Montreal, these are impeccable examples of pop craftsmanship that will reward repeat listeners.